Before there were lovable green ogres called Shrek and a kid wizard named Harry Potter, there were the 10 best fantasy short stories published in English during the first half of the nineteenth century. These excellent stories have been uncovered by Andrew Barger, awarding winning editor of 6a66le: The Best Horror Short Stories 1800-1849 and BlooDeath: The Best Vampire Short Stories 1800-1849.
In old magazines and forgotten journals, Andrew read well over 100 fantasy short stories and settled on the very best for this fantasy anthology. He provides a list, at the back of the collection, of the stories considered along with the author and year of publication. Andrew further includes background introductions to each story and author photos, where available. But his treatment of some of the earliest stories in the genre gets even better with annotations of the stories, which allow readers to peek behind the stories.
Middle Unearthed, an Introduction — Andrew Barger
1836 The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton — Charles Dickens
1839 The Kelpie Rock — Joseph Holt Ingraham
1831 Transformation — Mary Shelley
1819 Rip Van Winkle — Washington Irving
1824 Lilian of the Vale — George Darley
1835 The Doom of Soulis — John MacKay Wilson
1827 The Dwarf Nose — Wilhelm Hauff
1829 Seddik Ben Saad the Magician — D.C.
1845 The Witch Caprusche — Elizabeth F. Ellet
1837 The Pale Lady — George Soane
Take a wondrous journey into the early unknown and read the 10 best fantasy stories from 1800-1849 today.
Andrew Barger Interview
June 22, 2015
Q: As one of the ten best fantasy short stories for this period you picked one by Elizabeth Ellet, yet none by Edgar Allan Poe who did not hold her in high regard. Do you think Poe is rolling over in his grave?
A: Rolling? More like doing back flips against the lid of his coffin. I just like Ellet's witch story. It's a tight little thing and although Poe has more literary props in his little finger, Ellet seems to have beaten him in this genre for only this one fantasy story. She does admit that the general story idea, however, was based off fantasy legend.
Q: Fantasy has a broad meaning today. What types of stories did you exclude from consideration?
A: I have already edited the best horror, ghost, vampire, werewolf and science fiction short stories from 1800-1849, which can be found at AndrewBarger.com. It is those genres--or sub-genres--that I excluded.
Q: Modern readers may be surprised that Charles Dickens wrote a fantasy short story.
A: "The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton" is thought by many to be a precursor to A Christmas Carol because the goblins meet a certain grouchy sexton on Christmas Eve. Dickens's movements through time are unique for this time period. It was also surprising that Dickens had a story that rose to the level of those found in 6a66le: The Best Horror Short Stories 1800-1849.
Q: What is the oldest fantasy story in the collection?
A: "Rip Van Winkle". Washington Irving published it in 1819 and in it he gives the American Revolution special treatment. It is not a pure time travel story, but close to it.
Q: Was there any fantasy story you had never read that surprised you because of how good it was?
A: That's an easy one. Without question "Lilian of the Vale" by George Darley surprised me at how well it was written. Edgar Allan Poe even referenced it. Given its depth of character and storyline, to me it is the cornerstone of all modern fairy stories.
Q: No collection of fantasy stories from 1800-1850 would be complete without one by Mary Shelley.
A: You know, I am not a big fan of Mary Shelley stories and while I think Frankenstein was groundbreaking, it is not my favorite Gothic novel. Dracula far outshines it on every level and still puts chills sprinting down my spine. Bram Stoker, of course, had Frankenstein as a stepping stone, but it was a small one. I did include "Transformation" by Mary Shelley. It is her best fantasy short story, though her writing can be a little too dramatic.
Q: Were any other fantasy stories based on legend?
A: Many of them started as legend and tradition seeds. They grew like kudzu from there. "The Doom of Soulis" by John MacKay Wilson, recounts a haunting legend of a wizard, much like Elizabeth Ellet did in retelling "The Witch Caprusche."
Q: Do any of the fantasy stories pull from the work of other authors in the collection?
A: "The Kelpie Rock," by Joseph Holt Ingraham, draws on the prior writings of Washington Irving in the Hudson River Valley while giving the world one of the best fantasy stories by an American during the first half of the nineteenth century.
Q: What is your favorite fantasy short story in the collection and why?
A: If I have to pick among my babies, I would have to say that "The Dwarf Nose" by Wilhelm Hauff is my favorite. There are better written stories in the collection from the perspective of big words, but this enchanting tale by Hauff excels in character generation like no other. In Germany it is a popular children's story to this day, but limiting it to a mere children's tale is selling the short story . . . well . . . short. The underlying meaning behind the story, which is set forth in the footnotes, is genius.